Natural pigments are nature’s rocks we can use as paint.
When I was a child I use to get a rock and draw on concrete, I did not know then that rocks can be natural pigments. Then I used chalk, a very common rock in Cyprus, to make all different drawings. Then I discovered coal and I moved on paper.
However, I learn as a geologist the many uses of rocks, one which is to use them for painting. Hence we use them during ancient times to draw on cave walls our lifestyle or decorate our pottery and houses.
What are natural pigments
Natural Earthy pigments are powders used in painting and they were made by rocks. They were used and are still used in many cultures, such as in Africa.
In specific, these rocks are chemical compounds of metals, most commonly iron, which is ‘oxidized’. The result is these vivid colors of yellow and red.
Most often, pigment rocks are at the surface of the Earth because rock ‘oxidation’ happens when the rock is exposed to the atmosphere.
Usually, these types of rocks are somehow connected with volcanic activity. In these conditions, rocks are rich in metals and weathering them gives birth to colorful rocks.
How to make natural pigments yourself
There are many rocks that can be used as pigments and more colors to choose from. However today ochre is one of the most commonly used pigments. It is a pigment that varies of color from red to yellow.
However, in this article, we used umber, although it is the same technique to make ochre. Umber is mostly oxides of manganese and it is a rock of the ophiolite of Cyprus. In addition, it is a brown pigment that was used for thousands of years in Cyprus: painting pottery, churches walls, etc.
1. Collecting the rocks
This maybe the most difficult but you can learn where you can find some ochre or umber by contacting the local authorities.
Firstly collecting any loose rocks you can find. If you need to use a hammer to collect more, be sure you are not breaking any laws doing so.
When you gather all the quantity you want, you need to break them into small pieces and let them dry in the sun.
Hence losing the moisture, the rock is easier to handle for the next step.
Grind the pieces using a pestle and a mortar until you have a very fine powder. This process may be a bit difficult if you are not used to it.
Therefore you can make it easier if you break the pieces into small ones with a hammer.
3. Color changing
If you want to have more colors you can try to burn the powder using a heatproof container. But be careful, do not let it alone.
By heating the powder you will notice that the color changes from brown to a reddish version.